Posts Tagged ‘Paranormal’

Radio 4 Programme Next Week on Gef the Talking Mongoose

May 27, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times for 30th May – 5th June 2020, Radio 4 next Tuesday, 2nd June, is broadcasting a programme on the bizarre affair of the Manx poltergeist, Gef the talking mongoose. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

In the 1930s, a BBC employee who was interested in psychic phenomena investigated the story of Gef the Talking Mongoose – a supernatural creature with a foul mouth and disturbing habits, said to haunt a remote farmhouse on the Isle of Man. Thinking to amuse the public in the silly season, he published an account of his findings, little knowing that Gef would cause a national scandal, prompt questions in the House, drag in Lord Reith himself, and provoke a front-page court case. Docudrama by Robin Brooks featuring Jasmine Nazina-Jones.

Gef the Talking Mongoose is supposed to be one of the poltergeist cases with the best supporting evidence. About a decade or so ago the Fortean Times, the magazine for connoisseurs du weird, published a long article about it. I leave it to you to decide for yourself what you think of it or the paranormal, but this could be an interesting programme. However, with docudramas you’re always left wondering how faithful they are to the facts, and how much is dramatic license.

Way back in the ’90s ghosts and ghost-hunting were all the rage, and Most Haunted and other shows like it were gathering sizable audiences for what were niche shows on the satellite and cable channels. It was lampooned on the Beeb comedy show, Dead Ringers, where Most Haunted’s star psychic at the time, Derek Acorah, received psychic impressions from a hibernating tortoise in a shed in a garden centre, before being possessed by the unquiet spirit of Desmond Decker. Slumping, ‘Acorah’ started singing ‘I don’t want to dance’.  The ghost hunting craze has passed, though there are still very many people up and down the country spending their weekends visiting haunted places in the hope of seeing or experiencing one. Most Haunted has come and gone, and Derek Acorah, I think, has sadly left us. But nevertheless, its fellows and competitors are still around on some channels.

I found the video below from Red Letter Media on YouTube. That channel specialises in film reviews, not always respectful, but always well informed and often hilariously funny. One of the hosts, Mike Stoklasa, here talks about his guilty pleasure. Which is watching one of these shows, Ghost Adventures. It’s clear that he doesn’t take it too seriously, but is very careful not to say that it’s all scripted, even when there’s abundant evidence in the clips he provides to show that it is.

In the edition he talks about, the ghost hunters visit a museum that contains a dybbuk box. A dybbuk is a type of Jewish demon. The show’s stars intend to open the box to see if it really does contain a demon. To make sure they are properly protected spiritually, they have on hand a rabbi. They ask the reverend gentleman if he knows how to deal with such a demonic object. He replies that he does, as he’s just looked it up that day. The ghost hunters seem a bit crestfallen, but ask him if he personally believes in demons. He tells them that he doesn’t, not in his personal religion, but he’s prepared to believe in them for the sake of the script. Oh dear! Stoklasa then helpfully explains that he thinks that what the rabbi meant was that he would, if the course of the programme required it, and that the show didn’t have a written script.

More proof that the show isn’t scripted comes from a video Ghost Adventures put on YouTube. One of the ghost hunters is talking to the viewer about some place he wishes to investigate in the locale they’re investigating. Then a door comes open. The presenter makes an exclamation of surprise, the sequence cuts, and then he is shown approaching the same location and giving the same speech. Stoklasa merely comments that it’s bad editing. Here’s Stoklasa and Jay talking about it.

There’s a considerable amount of evidence for the existence of ghosts and the paranormal, and many of the people I’ve come across who take them seriously enough to investigate them, whether believer or sceptic, are by no means gullible fools or cynical debunkers. But, as with everything else on TV, not everything you see is objective reality and it’s a myth that the camera never lies.

Is This the Most Insulting Comment Aliens Have Said to an Abductee?

April 29, 2020

I’ve just finished reading Dr. David Clarke’s The UFO Files, a history of UFOs in Britain from the phantom airship scares of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the abduction experiences from the 60s onwards, the 70’s craze created by Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, right up to the years immediately preceding the book’s publication in 2009. The book was written to accompany the release of the government’s files on UFOs by the National Archives, and is naturally based on the records compiled by the MOD, the Air Ministry, RAF and armed forces, and the Airmiss inquiry group, which investigates near misses between aircraft.

It’s a fascinating book that shows that UFOs have been around for over a century and that the government and the British military don’t really know any more about them than anyone else. The aliens haven’t established secret bases in Britain, and neither to the RAF or anyone else for that matter have alien bodies stashed away in a secret hangar somewhere. The official government line, repeated over and again, is that UFOs or of ‘no defence significance’, and they really don’t want to get involved unless it’s absolutely necessary. They’ve therefore investigate UFO sightings and encounters when it affects national security, such as if the UFOs may actually be foreign planes. The last government report on the phenomenon concluded that most of them were generated by people wrongly identifying a variety of artificial objects and natural phenomena. Those that couldn’t be properly identified, were probably poorly understood meteorological phenomena, electromagnetic plasmas, which could also create hallucinations through interfering with the brains of witnesses. This part of the report was, however, attacked by scientists on its release as pseudoscience.

But very many of the UFOs reported over the years have been people mistaking a variety of normal objects and phenomena for alien craft. During the First World War, an anti-aircraft crew at an army base in Cumbria fired at what they honestly believed was a German Zeppelin. Except that an officer, arriving at the scene, reported that he saw them staring at a star. It was discovered during the Second World War that flocks of migrating birds could make radar trails very much like approaching enemy aircraft, although the airmen sent up to intercept them would find no-one except themselves up there. During the Cold War, UFO reports were generated by the Americans releasing the Mogul spy balloons from their base in Scotland, as well as later flights by spy planes like the U2 and SR-71. These were so secret, the Americans didn’t inform their NATO allies in the countries across which the planes and balloons traveled on their way to the USSR. As a result, RAF jets were scrambled to intercept these unidentified aircraft, while there was a spate of UFO reports along the German border.

Some UFO sightings were also caused by particularly spectacular fireball meteors burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. One of these was responsible for the Berwyn mountain crash, dubbed by some ‘the Welsh Roswell’. A series of meteors were seen over England, followed by an earthquake measuring 4-5 on the Richter scale centred in Bala. It was feared that a military plane had crashed on the mountain, as several had done so previously. The RAF therefore sent up a mountain rescue squad, which found nothing and came back down again. This was subsequently inflated into stories of the RAF’s retrieval of a crashed UFO and alien bodies.

Other sightings were caused by the re-entry of Soviet spacecraft burning up in the atmosphere. This is believed to be the cause of the Rendlesham Forest incident, ‘the British Roswell’, in which a group of American squaddies from a USAF base entered the forest to encounter a triangular UFO in 1980. It seems that the Americans seen the rocket for a Soviet Cosmos spy satellite re-entering, and then the lights from a nearby lighthouse, believing they came from an alien spacecraft.

One MOD scientific/intelligence officer believed that most UFO reports could be satisfactorily explained if they had been investigated immediately they occurred, rather than sometime afterwards. Nevertheless, there are encounters that are still genuinely perplexing. Such as the report a trucker driving through Devon in the ’70s made at a local police station. He had been driving along the main road there when a craft shaped like a mushroom descended, landing on the road ahead, out of which came six short figures wearing uniforms. After gesturing at him, the creatures eventually got in their spacecraft, which lifted up into the air and flew on, leaving the trucker shaken by the experience.

And then there’s the encounter reported by a gent in Basingstoke in 1968. The fellow had been walking down by the canal one morning when a UFO descended and he was taken aboard by their occupants. They examined him, before telling the poor chap, “You can go. You are too old and infirm for our purposes.” Popular SF, which seems to have strongly influenced the content of UFO encounters, has been full of tales of evil aliens coming to other to conquer and enslaved humanity, and carry off people off for breeding purposes. It’s usually females, as in the SF B-movie Mars Needs Women, but sometimes men as in the 1949 Hammer flick, Devil Girl from Mars. This episode occurred around about the time of the Villas Boas encounter, when a Brazilian farmer of that name had been abducted by aliens and forced to have sex with a red-headed alien woman. Possibly the crew of the Basingstoke UFO also had something similar in mind. If so, both they and the poor bloke they abducted were out of luck. Or perhaps they had in mind something far more unpleasant, in which case their intended victim was lucky. The Contactees, who met peaceful aliens in the 1950s, and the abductees from the 1980s onwards, were given messages by humanity by the aliens they encountered. These tend to moralistic sermons preaching international and intergalactic brotherhood, peace, an end to nuclear weapons and concern for the environment. Sometimes they include descriptions of the aliens’ own planets and their societies. Sometimes they’re even whisked away on journeys to these distant worlds. This poor fellow didn’t get any of that, just the blunt statement that he was too old and infirm for them. He was spared the horror and humiliation of being examined and experimented upon, but their comments still seem just a tiny bit insulting. They could have put it a bit more tactfully.

My own feeling is that UFOs, when they aren’t misidentified normal objects or phenomena, are internal visionary experiences drawing on the imagery of Science Fiction, but expressing deep-seated human fears and needs. I don’t know what generates them. I think some are probably the result of poorly understood psychological states, such as sleep paralysis. But I also wonder if others are genuine encounters with something paranormal, something that in previous centuries took the form of fairies and other supernatural beings, and now takes the form of aliens and spaceships as images more suitable for our technological society.

While David Clarke’s done excellent work researching the government’s UFO archives, and has shown that very many of them have entirely rational explanations, there may still be something genuinely paranormal out there. But it didn’t want the man from Basingstoke it encountered on that day in 1968.

The Wretched State of Modern Ghost Hunting

September 9, 2019

I spent Saturday with friends at a conference on the paranormal by ASSAP at the University of Bath. ASSAP are one of the old school ghosthunting/ paranormal investigation societies. They were formed 30 or so years ago to investigate spontaneous cases occurring in the outside world, as opposed to the laboratory based approach of the Society for Psychical Research. The SPR itself has been going for over a century now, and was founded by serious, prominent scientists, philosophers and intellectuals in the Victorian period to investigate the-then new phenomenon of Spiritualism. This raised the question of whether there was an afterlife and there were hidden powers of the mind, like telepathy, telekinesis and so on. I realise that this is very much fringe science, and to many people it’s unscientific nonsense. But these societies really are rigorously scientific in their approach to studying the paranormal. Many of their members and active officials are qualified and practising scientists, medical professionals, engineers and IT specialists, as well as academics from other disciplines, like history, anthropology and so on. In their investigations they formulate and apply the methods of science. Phenomena are thoroughly investigated, and only after natural explanations have been ruled out is it suggested that whatever strange events have occurred may be supernatural. That can mean long nights in supposedly haunted houses sitting quietly bored waiting for something to happen. They also have a strict code of conduct to regulate dealing with scared, vulnerable people. And this means not dabbling with things that are well outside their competence, such as people’s mental or physical health. There was a fascinating panel discussion with five leading investigators. And one of the issues they discussed was this. One panel member said that he had one person from a case he was investigating phone him up worried, as the ghost had started scratching them. He promptly advised them to see their GP as he was not qualified to investigate that. There are clear ethical issues involved, and the professionals make sure that they protect and look after the welfare of the people experiencing the haunting or whatever.

All of this contrasts very strongly with the approach of many of the contemporary ghosthunting groups. One of the talks I attended was by a female Ph.D. student, discussing why she no longer considers herself a ghosthunter. She very definitely was a ghosthunter, it must be said, but her old school approach was far too different from that of most of the ghosthunting groups that were now around. She stated at the outset that she wasn’t trying to shame or embarrass anyone. She was just trying to show what it was like now. And it was grim.

If she was correct, then contemporary ghosthunting is not driven by the goals and methods of science. ASSAP, the SPR and the other, older paranormal societies contain both believers and sceptics. These new societies were composed almost solely of believers, who were determined to obtain evidence. They were also very much creatures of today’s media-driven culture. They had their websites, on which they put up the video footage they believed they had obtained, which demonstrated paranormal activity. They also had their own merchandising, such a T-shirts and caps bearing their group’s logos. Quiet, scientific investigation was out. In old school investigations, things tend to be calm and quiet, with everyone knowing where everyone else is. In these investigations, there’s much excitement with people running around here and there. They are keen to have scientific equipment, like EMF meters. These register changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. But they don’t know how to use them. They’ll also have tape recorders in order to record any voices from the spirits. However, most of the time these record simply noise, and so they spend their time messing around with them trying not just to clean them up, but effectively editing the tape so it produces what they want to hear. The speaker said that these groups were strongly influenced by programmes like Most Haunted, where there was a lot of running about, a lot of excitement, and people got possessed. She showed one tweet from a group, which said they had had a quiet night. They had only encountered two spirits and a third had chased them home. This, she said, beat all the quiet times she had on investigations in haunted locations where absolutely zip happened.

They were also completely irresponsible with the members of the public they dealt with. One family were frightened to go up in their attack after they were told by the investigators that there was a demon up there, ’cause they’d caught it laughing on tape. Yes, it did sound like someone laughing. However, the sound was eventually revealed to be due to plumbing, rather than the paranormal. Another family made £10,000 worth of alterations to their property after another medium told them that they had a portal to the underworld. Yet another family were scared to go back to their house after a medium told them they also had a portal to the underworld. She wasn’t capable of dealing with it. She could, she said, give them an address of a shaman, but he had moved away. She made the point that this was incredibly irresponsible. She’d frightened these people, and then left with them with it.

She was also pessimistic about what could be done about this problem. It’s the hope of groups like ASSAP and the SPR that someday parapsychology will be given its due respect as a genuine scientific discipline. But there seems to be little chance of this with the field dominated by this new kind of ghosthunter. They were keen to defend the reality of the paranormal, and any criticism was met with the accusation that the critic was a ‘hater’, who should be ignored. This meant that the sceptics were even more determined to disparage and ignore parapsychology. The speaker had hoped that these groups would die out, but they seemed to multiply and breed like viruses.

It was a fascinating, if dispiriting – no pun intended – talk, and I really don’t know what can be done about this situation. The speaker said she didn’t want to shame anyone, as these groups genuinely believe that what they’re doing is right. Perhaps. But if they’re making ordinary people terrified in their own homes, then clearly they’re a menace. Listening to her, it struck me that ‘ghosthunting’ in the traditional sense was very much a misnomer for these people. They’re actually legend trippers. ‘Legend tripping’ is the term folklorists use to describe the practice of people, mostly youngsters, going to a haunted or supposedly paranormal location, in order to experience something weird. Quite often they also have an ulterior motive as well, as they’ll often bring alcohol and their girlfriends. I am not saying that these groups are also there to drink and have a bit of romance, but they do seem to show the same mindset as those seeking to experience the paranormal on legend trips.

But if these groups dominate ghosthunting now, perhaps there is still some hope. Possibly that style of ghosthunting may fall out of fashion, even though it hasn’t done so far. What I think groups like ASSAP can do is carry on with their thorough, scientific investigations and make sure that these are given due prominence, in the hope that their influence will carry. Hopefully, a few, at least, of the other groups may get the message of how to investigate the paranormal properly.

Woohoo! X-Files Coming Back on Monday on Channel 5

February 3, 2018

After a hiatus of about a year, the new X-Files series on Channel 5, Monday, 4th February 2018, at 9.00 in the evening. This has the remaining regulars of the old series in it – Duchovny and Anderson, Mitch Pileggi and the Cigarette Smoking Man, as well as Annabeth Gish, playing Agent Monica Reyes, who appeared in the very last series of the old X-Files. The listing for it in the Radio Times runs

The drama returns as an unconscious Scully is rushed to hospital, where a neurosurgeon discovers she is suffering from a frenzy of neural activity. (p. 74).

And the blurb for it a few pages earlier on page 71 also runs

When we were last in the company of Mulder and Scully, he was succumbing to a virus that was stripping his immune system, awhile she was staring wide-eyed at a UFO descending from the heavens. It was a whopper of a cliffhanger, and one that, unfortunately, gets resolved using storytelling techniques frowned upon by primary-school teachers.

But that is the perennial problem when The X-Files does these government-conspiracy ‘mythology arc’ episodes: they initially seem tricksy and knotty, but tend to fall apart at the slightest unpicking. Thankfully, we have a standalone case to look forward to next week, so not all hope was lost.

And here’s the trailer for it I found on YouTube. Amongst the delights promised is a meeting between Mulder and Scully and the man, who set up the X-Files, Skinner doing dodgy things for the Cigarette Smoking Man, and a carnivorous monster created through the merging of human and alien DNA.

Yay! Paranoia, the paranormal, UFOs, urban legends, weird science and general high-strangeness is back!